By MICK HOLIEN
Fortunately for me I’ve only been sworn in by a Montana or us. District Court Judge and not sworn at but appearing in front of his or her honor can well be an imposing scenario.
But it has been several years since C.B. McNeill, who recently passed, looked down at me sternly from that bench in the Lake County Courthouse reciting to me my sworn duties as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children/Guardian ad Litem.
And while I entered his courtroom as a routine matter, there quickly was little doubt just who’s courtroom it was.
The 80 year old McNeill served 29 years preceding over more than 27,000 felony cases and some 223 jury trials that proceeded to verdict.
I was struck by the picture in his obit showing a broad smile and what appeared to be a plaid shirt, ironic I thought since I never had the pleasure not only to see a smile or to see anything but his clothes covered by his robe.
A University of Montana law school graduate he was elected the inaugural 20th judicial district judge in 1984 at the same time when his law partner Jean Turnage was elected to the Montana Supreme court.
McNeill took particular pride in helping draft many environmental laws protecting where we live as a participant in con-con, the 1972 convention that fashioned the State of Montana Constitution.
I remember during one court appearance before him he inquired as to a Grizzly pin I wore on my lapel. I explained my role with UM and I guess was a bit surprised that he didn’t know my radio role but that was McNeill off that bench, doing the job and upholding the law he was sworn to protect.
The father of two and the husband of Jo Ann for 58 years, McNeill was extremely proud of his heritage as a fifth generation Montanan.
A U.S. ARMY veteran he received his undergrad degree from the School of Mines and while in the military received his wings through ROTC.
Replaced on the bench by Jim Manley, McNeill retired in 2013 after adjudicating more than 5,000 criminal cases and more than 6000 divorces.
RIP your honor